Monday! Features! YAY! Today your resident features expert Nick Chester sits down and analyses just why Caramoan is so hated as a season. Was it the casting? Location? Editing? Winner? Or all of the above and more? Click below to hear the debate and don’t forget to have your say on whether or not Caramoan is rightfully hated or extremely underrated!
In my time writing for Survivor Oz, I have penned articles that lots of people liked, and few people really disliked. I’m always pleased when I have written something that sparks debate and gets people thinking about the show. One article in particular caused such an outrage that, even given its subject matter, it surprised me. This was the “Top Ten” reasons why Caramoan was a better season than Philippines. Ever since I have watched with interest as people placed Caramoan in the same league as One World, Redemption Island and South Pacific as their least favourite seasons ever. As someone who quite enjoyed the season on a first watch, this had always intrigued me. Why was this season so disliked? What was I missing?
Time for a little behind the scenes. So the Top Ten in question was two-parter and was an idea I had to explore the now infamous claim by Jeff during Philippines that Season 26 was an “even better” season. To say this raised expectations for Caramoan was an understatement. The fan community was generally impressed with Philippines, as a season that seemed to combine aspects of old school seasons with pace and production values that we associate with newer seasons. It had a great cast, new location, even the returning players added something to the season rather than an artificial add-on. My idea of doing a Top Ten for each season to compare was a fun and innocent idea to explore this, and certainly created discussion. I drew the short straw and had the unenviable task of defending Caramoan. As I say, it was a season I enjoyed, but don’t consider it to be awesome either. It’s very middle of the road. So the negative reaction really surprised me. Since that time, I have come to grips a little bit more, but when deciding to write this article, I asked the good folks at the Facebook Group “Addicted to Survivor” to give me their thoughts on why it is such a bad season. So thanks guys, its appreciated and you certainly clarified a lot for me. So here’s what I make of it.
This didn’t go down so well
Whose favourites were these? The fans, or production’s?
Any Survivor season lives or dies on its casting. A good cast with diverse personalities can bounce off each other, creating great moments and strategy. A bad cast can make watching the season feel like a chore. For me, diversity is the key. You need fans, recruits, different socioeconomic backgrounds, ethnicity and age. Casting also works really hard to get casts that will interact with each other in interesting ways.
I have always thought that any “vs.” season stretches casting into unusual decisions. This is especially apparent with returning players. Some people have to return because of their impact in previous seasons, and they may not mesh well together as a cast in a new season. For me, I thought it was obvious from their first season that Phillip, Malcolm and Cochran would return. I also wasn’t surprised by Andrea, Dawn or Brenda. I was pleasantly surprised by Erik and Corinne’s return, and completely puzzled by the decision to bring Brandon and Francesca back. One problem was that this group of players were not exactly “favourites”, and many of the players I think would have made great players didn’t return. Where were Jim Rice, Marty, Taj, David Murphy, Jane (I’m not a big Jane fan, but there is no doubt she was a “favourite), Holly and Chase? And given that the last season the “Fans” had seen before playing was One World, its crazy to think none of them were in the cast. Troyzan, Sabrina and Chelsea would all have been good choices, and would have been met with a big reaction.
Where were these guys?
And then there are the “fans”. Clearly, most were not even close. I have no issue with recruits, but on a season called “Fans vs. Favourites”, there should be an exception. They were also very similar looking (3 young blondes seemed a mistake), and most were lacking in game awareness. Don’t get me wrong, the likes of Michael and Reynold were great TV but they were the minority and were never going to light up the game. Placing new players up against veterans already gives the old hands a crazy advantage and perhaps the only way to alleviate this is to ensure the new players are fans and know how to play the game well. This whole situation can probably be summed up when the favourites were introduced to the fans in episode 1. Far from the wowed reactions of the first set of fans in Micronesia, this scene feel completely flat, between favourites who were unmemorable to fans who didn’t know who they were anyway.
The “No Surprises” approach
Although we all view the show differently, for me the idea of not knowing what will happen next is massive. When a season is airing for the first time, I want to stay as spoiler-free as possible, and just watch how things play out. It’s nice to try and guess what the editors are trying to tell you and you can make educated guesses (in my case, inaccurate ones) as to what will happen next, and just enjoy not knowing what will happen. We probably all have experiences with being spoiled accidently by clicking the wrong link on a website, but things went a step further when production started making previews and editing the show in such a way that it started to become pretty obvious what was going to happen long before it did. Cochran’s eventual win is clearly shown weeks in advance. In some seasons, it’s pretty hard to shape a story without showing one player dominating and eventually winning (Redemption Island, One World and Palau are good examples), but Caramoan isn’t this season. Objectively speaking, the way the game plays out post-merge should have made for a really enjoyable second half of the season, but a lot of the enjoyment was lost because Cochran was constantly given “winner’s quotes” and made to look near perfect. It’s hard to sit back and enjoy this when the editing is basically spoiling the show for you. But it’s not just with the winner, or even what is shown on screen. Previews during Caramoan spoilt some of the best moments – think of the previews that ran the week before Phillip’s boot, saying this was the most epic tribal council in history. If they had just shut up and let the episode speak for itself, the ending would have been much more enjoyable.
We couldn’t figure this would be epic on our own
Getting the edit right on Survivor must be a tricky job and although I would love to have a go at it, I’m sure I couldn’t do a better job. Philippines was an example of a well edited show. Most players got a full and even edit, with their story being fully told and lots of opportunities to analyse along the way to decide who the winner would be. However, Caramoan was just a mess. Apart from highlighting the winner at a very early point, players didn’t get even edits. We got far too much of Phillip (I actually don’t hate him, but everything in moderation). We saw so little of Brenda, Erik and other players like Corinne and even Malcolm dropped in and out so much that it was hard to really get a feel for what was going on. I understand that you have to show Phillip – he was driving a lot of the action, but it just felt like too much. A little Phillip goes a long way. Likewise, not showing Brenda for something like 6 episodes is bad storytelling. She may not have been so compelling, but its pretty hard to care about a character one way or another when you know so little about their game. Brenda’s eventual demise was epic, but could have been even better with a bit more attention given to her and her relationship with Dawn.
Speaking of which, I felt for Dawn. She has always been one of my favourites, a player who is emotionally conflicted about making strategic moves. I felt her whole edit just played her off as a crazy person, a one note “older woman” with no strategy and just annoyingly emotional. This clearly wasn’t who Dawn was and she was done a huge disservice by playing her character out this way, seemingly to show why she got to the end and won no jury votes.
Best Buds? Could have fooled me
Production’s Heavy Hand
One comment from fans about the season was to highlight how production meddled with this game in such a major way that any real drama was lost. The placement of so many idols reduced the game to a lottery at points, but there were lots of situations where production played for drama when it probably wasn’t needed. This even starts with casting (see above), and Francesca is clearly there to act as an antagonist to Phillip, not for any other reason. I like Francesca, but its a shame that someone missed out on a spot so a first boot could return – not because they were an amazing character who got unlucky, but because of the impact they would have on another player. Another example in the game of production being heavy handed can be seen during the Brandon meltdown. Playing this out in such a public way at a challenge seemed too much. Likewise, making such a contrived situation at the loved ones visit, effectively putting the winner of the challenge at such a disadvantage was not necessary. It was almost as if production didn’t have faith in the cast to produce entertaining TV on their own, which is telling. I’m not accusing production of anything underhanded, just an observation that some moments were overplayed to get greater levels of drama happening. It wasn’t necessary – these players were producing good moments on their own.
Milk the drama!
Although I don’t really worry too much about reunion shows in general, Caramoan’s is undoubtedly the worst, and encapsulates a lot of the issues with the season as a whole. Not allowing pre-jury members to sit on stage was such a mistake. OK, I get they were trying something new, but to deny players their chance to sit up on stage seemed petty and didn’t consider that the players are the stars of the season, and regardless of how well they did, they should get their moment to sit on stage. This also meant we didn’t get to hear from players like Corinne, Francesca or Matt. We also didn’t get to hear from Erik about his mede-vac, or from Michael or Eddie. I really disliked how Jeff basically forced Dawn into apologizing to Benda – what happened to everything being part of a game? So much time was then wasted on talking about the first season, interviewing Rudy and a Malcolm superfan who froze and couldn’t say anything of interest. It seems at least the lesson was learned, but it should never have come to this. The reunion should be a fun chance to talk with the players about the major aspects of the game, tease the next season and then move on. The Caramoan reunion failed on all counts and ensured we left the season with a bitter taste in our mouth.
Less than impressed
Are there any positives?
For all this, I still think it has some strong points, although I have to concede my enjoyment for the season has diminished a lot from having analysed it a bit more deeply. But it does have some good stuff there, it is just a little hard to find. For me, there are some good characters and the three amigos alliance is fun. I stand by my opinion in the Top Ten that I find Malcolm more relatable and interesting in Caramoan when he is in a minority and has his back up against the wall. Andrea is also good, oscillating between a cool, calm badass and melting into tears when she finds out she is being targeted. Eddie is pretty funny (as a dog owner myself, the dog bar is such a great idea!), and Reynold is a player who I loved to hate, and would be genuinely be interested in seeing play again, which isn’t something I can say for most of this cast. I think a lot of the good players made it to the merge, which made for a large number of swings in the game post-merge. Although overhyped, the Phillip-boot tribal council is great to watch as players strategize on the spot. The Corinne, Michael, Andrea and Brenda blindsides are all great in their own ways, sometimes hilarious, sometimes jaw dropping and sometimes brutal. And although the result is a foregone conclusion, the final tribal council is compelling. So I still wouldn’t place it in the bottom category of seasons (For me, Redemption Island, All Stars, One World and Cook Islands fill up those spots). But I now have a much better appreciation and understanding for why other would. Hopefully if we ever have a Fans vs. Favourites 3, some of these issues can be addressed.
What do you think of Caramoan? Is it a season that should get more love or is it rightfully disliked? Let us know below!
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